Thursday morning I pack up my messenger bag with some snacks and walk down to the bus stop to take my first solo trip to Lima. I had found the Peru Writers Group https://www.facebook.com/?ref=home#!/pages/Peru-Writers-Group/124675254241703 online and was invited to attend their weekly Thursday meeting. I figure this is the perfect time to try out my transit skills. The trip by bus from Cieneguilla to Mira Flores takes me two and half hours. Walter had given me directions. “You’ll see the big sign for Sodimac to your right and you’ll go through the ditch. Go past that then get off the bus. You’ll have to walk back half a block to the aluminum bridge and buy a ticket for the metro and then take it to Ricardo Palma.” I get out at the correct stop and walk my half a block. I give grateful thoughts to the time I spent buying transit tickets in NYC, DC and Dallas which make it easy for me to buy my Metro card from the kiosk. I wander down the corridor and ask a guy if I am on the right side of the platform to go to Ricardo Palma. At first he thinks I mean the Ricardo Palma Medical Center. I tell him I mean the Avenida and he sends me to the train that goes the opposite way. He doesn’t lead me astray. I get off on Ricardo Palma and see the Banco del Credito and the Luz del Sur buildings Walter told me would be there as landmarks.Eight blocks down Ricardo Palma later I turn right on Commandante Espinar. I think I’m headed the right way towards Chiclayo Street which should be three blocks away. This is where Madre Natura--a health food store--is. The group meets on the patio in back of the store. After what seems like three blocks to me, I ask a lady who is standing at the corner next to me waiting to cross the street if she knows if Chiclayo is up ahead. She thinks for a minute and then takes me under her wing and escorts me personally to the entrance of the store. All the while she practices her English while I respond to her in Spanish. She wishes me luck and I say, “Gracias.”
I’ve given myself just the correct amount of travel time and am only four minutes late to the meeting. Two writers are already there. We introduce ourselves and chat while we wait for the other three to show up.
Their group reminds me very much of the critique group I was a part of in Colorado Springs and the Expats include me in their meeting as if I am a longtime friend. I feel right at home. After the meeting one of the girls, Katrina, invites me to her house for a BBQ. She draws me out a detailed map and says she hopes I can come.
My return directions seem a little more complicated and I ask my new friends to point me toward the right bus for home. While we’re sitting still, they exchange some stories about adventures they’ve had on buses. Ben says that one time some guy stood next to him on a bus and played a three string violin—badly—for 45 minutes. They tell a few more stories and I can just imagine the kinds of adventures I’ll have by bus myself. I just don’t think it’ll happen as soon as it does. When we all get set to leave and say our goodbyes, Katrina walks me to the bus stop and waits to make sure I get on safely before heading on her way. After I take a route that seems to go in a complete circle, I have to transfer to another bus and successfully get on the right one to Cieneguilla.
The buses all have a driver and a person who opens the door, yells out the stops to get riders to climb aboard, and collects fares. This particular driver looks a little rough around the edges. The door person isn’t so bad, but he seems a little boisterous. I settle in a seat and prepare for a several hour trip home. The driver takes his time through Lima. Stopping extra long at each stop, which makes the passengers angry and many of them begin to slap the palms of their hands against the windows while yelling, “Avance, señor, avance.” Which basically mean, “Get a move on, dude. We don’t have all day to waste in this bus.”
It seems like the more the passengers get riled up the more the driver slows. Any minute I expect we’re going to have a bus riot against the driver. He takes a right hand turn and one lady stands and yells at him to pull over. He does and the doorman opens the door. She berates him and the driver. “You said you stopped at such and such a corner,” she yells, “this is several blocks past and on the wrong street to boot, you lying dogs. You’re both drunks and you are a god-awful driver and it’s a pity your mother didn’t raise you better.” That’s a paraphrase of what she said, but she was angry as all get out for sure.
The door closes against her words and we take our slow voyage on. “Avance, avance,” the backseaters yell. I’m starting to agree with them. This driver doesn’t seem to have any kind of concern for his passengers or for road safety. We’re through the main streets of Lima and hit the road through the mountains to Cieneguilla. Suddenly, as if to make up for his slowness in the city, the driver pounds the accelerator to the floor and gets the bus moving in a frenzy of speed.
He passes vehicles on the right hand dirt shoulder (if it can even be called a shoulder) as if all road laws are at that second revoked. When we reach an intersection an SUV inches close to pass. The driver cuts the SUV off. A street later, the SUV tries again and gets around the bus. Personally insulted, the driver speeds up, and nearly causing an accident, gets in front of the SUV. He maneuvers the bus to block the two lanes and leans out the window to yell back. “You think you can pass me now? Do it. Try it now. You too scared to get around? Come on!”Holy smokes. This guy is freaking loco, I think. I once watched a movie where one of the characters says, “It’s a good day to die.” This dude must have woken up with that thought on his mind and unfortunately for all of us in his bus he didn’t just expect the phrase to apply to himself.
Somehow, three hours later, by some miracle, not really any worse for the wear, the bus manages to make it to my stop without crashing or burning or the people rioting. I step off and walk the rest of the way back home. Now I have my own bus story to tell and I’m sure it won’t be the last one.